Opposing teams may want to sound the alarm: One if by land, two if by sea, three if Baez.
That’s right, Javy is back. Somehow, a Cubs roster that was already replete with talent just got even deeper. In order to make room on the active roster, middle infielder Munenori Kawasaki will be shuttled back to AAA Iowa. While his performance this spring on the field and behind the mic had many pulling for the animated reserve, Kawasaki just doesn’t offer the kind of versatility or ceiling the Cubs now have in Baez.
Had Javy not spent the latter part of his time in Mesa laid up with a bum thumb — STOP SLIDING HEADFIRST INTO FIRST BASE — this would be a non-issue. And it’s not as if the Cubs needed any help over the first nine games either. But with the loss of Kyle Schwarber and the inevitability of eventually playing a team that doesn’t remind you of Glass Joe from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, a super-utility player with crazy offensive potential is going to come in handy.
It still sounds kinda weird to call Baez a utility player though, doesn’t it? I mean, this is a guy who really started the “too many shortstops” conversation. Starlin Castro’s presence there pushed Baez to second base when he was first called up and then Addison Russell’s ascendance pushed Baez and his wicked swing all over the place. Second, short, third, wherever he was needed. Missing a real backup to Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs even worked Javy out at first base.
They also had him playing center in winter ball and in spring training and he got some time in left as he rehabbed in Iowa to open the season. My math’s not great, but I’m counting six positions so far. Baez looked a little shaky in the outfield early on, but he’s got the athleticism and acumen to adjust pretty quickly to nearly any spot on the field. Normally, guys who can play decent to plus defense at several positions are liabilities at the plate. They maintain a roster spot on versatility alone.
But in Baez, the Cubs have a stud with light-tower power, not to mention great speed and pretty good baserunning instincts. Joe Maddon can give nearly every one of his regulars a day off without experiencing a significant drop-off either offensively or defensively, a huge boon to the manager and to the everyday players.
This is the kind of luxury that almost seems unfair for a team that is off to its best start since 1969 and has outscored opponents by a league-leading 43 runs through nine games. For those of you who like to have fun with small sample sizes, that run differential has the Cubs on pace to finish +779. Yikes.
In addition to all that, there’s just something so viscerally fun and exciting about watching a Baez at-bat. The violent power of his swing is hardly contained beneath an integument of ethereal grace and beauty that offers a promise of inexplicable wonder. The results often belie the potential, but that doesn’t stop onlookers from holding their breath each time the 23-year-old steps into the box.
We’ve been hearing about Baez for so long, it’s hard to believe he’s actually that young. Now he’s back — ideally for good — with a Cubs team that can provide him both the protection and support to truly harness his almost limitless capabilities. It’s kinda scary when you think about it. I don’t really wanna think right now though, I just wanna sit back and enjoy the ride for a little while. At the risk of getting even more hyperbolic than I have already, these guys are starting to feel like MLB’s version of the Warriors.
Yeah, I said it. I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it either. So here’s to Javy Bombs and unicorns and day games at Wrigley.